By Priscilla Aguirre
and Valerie Bustamante
The University of the Incarnate Word is moving on after the Board of Trustees’ decision Aug. 29 to remove the longtime president after he exhibited uncharacteristic behavior and made troublesome comments.
The board first placed Dr. Louis J. Agnese Jr., who had served as president 31 years, on medical leave Aug. 18 due to “sporadic uncharacteristic behavior and comments.”
But he was removed immediately Aug. 29 following the release of an anonymous letter submitted to the San Antonio Express-News by “very concerned students,” accusing Agnese of making what’s considered as racist and offensive statements Aug. 15 at a physical therapy luncheon towards African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Mormons.
Agnese admitted to the Express-News he did in fact make those remarks, but he did not think they were offensive.
“His behavior and some (of) what he was saying publicly was erratic,” said Dr. Denise Doyle, who the board named acting president, in an exclusive interview Sept. 1 with UIW’s student media. “And there were people who took offense at [the comments he made.]
“We really could not have in the university a person who is a leader saying things and acting in ways that were really becoming harmful to the university,” Doyle said. “[He] was cautioned and reminded of his role and he really didn’t see that his behavior was unbecoming of the president of a Catholic university.”
Just before the letter was published, the statement sent out on Aug. 18 through e-mail from Board Chair Charles Lutz to the UIW community stated Agnese would be placed on a 90-medical leave and Doyle, provost emerita of the university, would serve as acting president during the medical leave.
In the statement Lutz even gave a “sincere apology” from the university to anyone who may have been offended from the comments made by Agnese.
Once the e-mail was released to media outlets, Agnese talked to the Express-News expressing his feelings towards the statement released by Lutz. Agnese wanted the statement retracted and threated to take legal action against the university.
“He refused to follow the instruction of the board and denied he needed medical leave,” Doyle said. “He spoke publicly to the press in a threating matter towards the board.”
Shortly after speaking to the Express-News, Agnese stated he would continue to work with the board in basing a decision on his status at UIW.
Ultimately, the board decided on immediate removal of Agnese. Doyle will continue her role as acting president until a new president takes office – a process expected to take a year.
Reportedly during the board’s Aug. 29 “closed-door meeting” Lutz and Sister Teresa Maya, congregational leader of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word – founders of the university — each read official statements addressing Agnese’s time as president and how “this institution has benefitted greatly from his leadership, his vision, and his creativity.”
“I truly believe he was a loyal and determined president,” alum Paul Villanueva Jr., said. “Despite the circumstances of what went down, 30 years of service, and positive changes, is nothing to be ashamed of, or bashed.”
Agnese came to the UIW campus when it was known as Incarnate Word College in 1985. He was considered one of the youngest college presidents at the time and until recently considered one of the longest-serving.
In 1985, Incarnate Word’s enrollment was under 2,000, only 56 majors were offered, and doctoral programs did not exist.
During his time as president, Agnese helped take the college to university status, grow the campus to an enrollment of nearly 11,000 students worldwide and opened several campuses away from the Main Campus in San Antonio such as John and Rita Feik School of Pharmacy, Rosenberg School of Optometry, and the School of Physical Therapy. And the School of Osteopathic Medicine is set to open at Brooks City Base next year.
Through his assistance, other campuses opened in Mexico City; Irapuato, Guanajuato, Mexico; Heidelberg, Germany; and formerly in China.
Agnese lived on campus – in a penthouse on the seventh floor of Agnese-Sosa — to stay close to students and faculty.
According to Doyle, he is entitled to stay on campus for several months if he wishes to.
“(Agnese) was very successful in the things he has done for as long as he has worked here,” freshman nursing student Corey Ruiz, said. “Talking to a lot of upperclassmen, they really loved him so I think people are really going to be sad about [him leaving] because they’ve grown to know him and he lives on campus so everyone’s really close to him.”
Once Agnese moves out, the space may be renovated into office spaces or conference rooms, Doyle said.
The annual “Light the Way” and the President’s Spaghetti Dinner will continue along with other influences Agnese has established on campus, Doyle said.
“Our intention is to keep as many positive contributions of Agnese going forward,” Doyle said. “We’re not trying to eradicate the memory of the president.”